December 06, 2006

A national disgrace: The case of Jose Padilla

There is perhaps nothing that exemplifies the disgraceful contempt displayed by this administration for law and human rights than the way they have treated Jose Padilla, the man labeled by the government as a 'dirty bomber' although the indictment that was finally brought against him says nothing of the sort and has been reduced to vague charges of being involved with terrorism. But because of the huge amount of government propaganda surrounding his arrest, he will always be thought of in the public mind as having planned to detonate a radioactive bomb in an American city.

The news article by Deborah Sontag in the December 4, 2006 issue of the New York Times reveals the depths to which the government has sunk in its cruelty to this man. This is something that will be a source of shame for a long time, if it isn't the case that we have lost all sense of shame already.

In an affidavit filed Friday, [Andrew Patel, one of his lawyers] alleged that Mr. Padilla was held alone in a 10-cell wing of the brig; that he had little human contact other than with his interrogators; that his cell was electronically monitored and his meals were passed to him through a slot in the door; that windows were blackened, and there was no clock or calendar; and that he slept on a steel platform after a foam mattress was taken from him, along with his copy of the Koran, "as part of an interrogation plan". . . [The lawyers] argue that he has been so damaged by his interrogations and prolonged isolation that he suffers post-traumatic stress disorder and is unable to assist in his own defense. His interrogations, they say, included hooding, stress positions, assaults, threats of imminent execution and the administration of "truth serums."

As Digby points out:

I think isolation and lack of a sense of time and strange repetitive interrogations may be even more cruel than physical punishment. The belief that it will never end, that you've lost all normal sense of personhood and control --- that your mind is being stripped away and there's nothing you can do about it --- must be terrifying.

This one telling detail alone illustrates the extent to which the government will stoop in its cruelty. To take him to a dentist, in addition to shackling his legs and manacling his hands, the government put on thick noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes so that Padilla would not see or hear anything from the outside world while making the trip, thus keeping his isolation from humanity complete. Even the guards' faces were hidden behind plastic visors because how terrible it would be if he should make eye contact or even exchange a smile with another human being, or that he should see the sun or trees or hear birds or even a bit of music from a passing car. Experiencing those sensations would have the disastrous effect of reminding him that he was a human being and not just a collection of cells subject to experimentation on the effects of sensory deprivation.

Of course, those seeking to justify this kind of treatment will employ the usual trope to justify execrable behavior and point to someone who might do even worse: "al Qaeda wouldn't take their prisoners for a root canal." They will try and portray Padilla as someone who is actually being treated well and is just a whiner complaining about minor discomfitures. But Digby sees through this bogus toughness.

I know that all the tough guys on the right will say that Padilla is just being a typical whining malcontent but I have a feeling that most of them would crumble into blubbering babies after five minutes in his position. This treatment is extremely inhumane.

It seems like Padilla is already a broken man, so destroyed psychologically that he is unfit to stand trial. In his affidavit, Mr. Patel said, "I was told by members of the brig staff that Mr. Padilla's temperament was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of 'a piece of furniture.'" He was denied access to any lawyers for 21 months so that even now he is mistrustful and unsure whether his lawyers are on is side or are secretly working against him. Furthermore, according to the New York Times report:

Dr. Angela Hegarty, director of forensic psychiatry at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, N.Y., who examined Mr. Padilla for a total of 22 hours in June and September, said in an affidavit filed Friday that he "lacks the capacity to assist in his own defense."

"It is my opinion that as the result of his experiences during his detention and interrogation, Mr. Padilla does not appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, is unable to render assistance to counsel, and has impairments in reasoning as the result of a mental illness, i.e., post-traumatic stress disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation," Dr. Hegarty said in an affidavit for the defense.

No one has better expressed outrage over Padilla's treatment and the cruelty with which the government is treating so-called enemy combatants than Glenn Greenwald. He is also amazed that a country that prides itself on being a nation of laws has sat back and let this happen not only without an outcry, but with some sectors even cheering the government on. And if this can be done to Padilla, who is a US citizen who was arrested within the US, think what must be happening to those unfortunates who are not citizens or who were captured abroad or are being held in foreign prisons.

As Greenwald says:

As I have said many times, the most astounding and disturbing fact over the last five years -- and there is a very stiff competition for that title -- is that we have collectively really just sat by while the U.S. Government arrests and detains people, including U.S. citizens, and then imprisons them for years without any charges of any kind. What does it say about our country that not only does our Government do that, but that we don't really seem to mind much?

Along those lines, it is hard to express the contempt merited by the drooling sociopaths who not only endorse this behavior but, with what can only be described as serious derangement, laugh about it and revel in its cruelty and its lawlessness.

In a subsequent post, he examines the reasons for the public apathy on this issue and points to the disgraceful attitude taken on this issue by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post.

This is the reason why. Over the last five years, the media (with some notable and noble exceptions) essentially embraced the central premise of the Bush administration -- that in order for us to be protected, we must place our faith in the Leader and know that he is doing Good, because he wants to protect us.

He may err at times. He might even go a little too far or be a little zealous in what he does to make us safe. But there are Very, Very Bad People in the world who want to kill us -- Padilla is "accused of plotting a dirty-bomb attack"! -- and the Leader needs the power to get his hands dirty and take care of them. The last thing we should be concerned with is what the Leader does to them.

Greenwald gets it exactly right. What is happening is a disgrace.

POST SCRIPT: Staying in Iraq "until the job is done"

As the Iraq Study Group delivers its report today, the Daily Show looks at all the advice the Bush is getting and what he is likely to do.


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Personally, the reason I haven't dropped everything to stop the administration (well, one reason among many) is that while I despise what they've been doing for pretty much the entirety of Bush's presidency, I'm just too young and inexperienced to have any sense of perspective here. I mean, it's hardly the first time people in power have done awful things in the US, and not all horrible decisions have pushed us past any sort of irrecoverable tipping point. How are people who've never lived through this sort of thing before to know what is a measured response? Where is the line between laudable protest and the sort of hysteria that makes middle-America deaf to one's complaints?

Posted by Erin on December 6, 2006 07:24 PM

A key principle that is constantly being overlooked is "If you have no or a poor strategic plan, the best tactics in the world will eventually fail. If you have a good solid strategy and strategic vision even poor tactics can succeed." Unfortunately, no matter how they attempt to gild it, the strategy and strategic vision for Iraq is seriously flawed if not totally non-existent. The ISG does not seem to be developing a good strategic vision or policy partially because it is composed of participants who while they may appear to be outside in reality are still part and parcel of the current leadership.

Posted by Marc Yergin on December 6, 2006 08:07 PM

When I read about this incident, especially on your blog, I was digusted. But I honestly believe that its not the people, its the system. The people who torture others probably went through regular schooling but somewhere along the way, they learned how to do these things. There was a famous psychology study deemed as "stanford prison experiment". It is worth looking at. It makes you wonder what all of us are capable of if placed in certain circumstances.

Posted by Teja on December 8, 2006 12:09 AM


We need to keep in mind that the people who exert power in the country (the political and business leaders) and those who can exert at least some pressure on them (the media) have to be forced to act decently by people like us. We have to make people aware of these atrocities.

I think that what is happening in the US now is on a far more serious scale than anything that I have read about in the past, especially as the country is not at war or in any serious danger.

Posted by Mano Singham on December 8, 2006 12:52 PM